Accreditation Standards & Libraries: A Dangerous Ride Down a Devolving Course

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Beth Evans, Electronic Services Librarian and Africana Studies/PRLS/Women’s Studies Specialist at Brooklyn College, CUNY.

The Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE, or, Middle States) is looking for feedback on the proposed revisions to the Characteristics of Excellence, the MSCHE accreditation standards. If you work in a college or university in an area that comes under Middle States jurisdiction, have or know of a child who attends one of the affected schools, or care about the future of higher education, add your comments to an online survey by January 31 or take the opportunity to attend a town hall meeting scheduled at one of several locations in the region throughout the spring of 2014, and be sure your voice is heard.

The Middle States standards set the bar for the accreditation of colleges in five states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. If adopted, the new standards will shape what higher education looks like in four of the eight Ivy League universities, the top two largest U.S. colleges as measured by enrollment, nine Historically Black Colleges, and the first college in the United States dedicated to the education of the deaf, among so many others. The number of students who will be affected is extraordinarily large and diverse. In contrast, the number of standards by which Middle States will measure a school is dramatically shrinking to half the number established the last time the standards underwent a comprehensive review.

According to the MSCHE, “[i]n response to extensive feedback from member institutions and experienced peer evaluators, the Steering Committee attempted to streamline the standards, eliminate redundancies, and focus on clarity and brevity.” What Middle States has done in the process of streamling their standards is to eliminate any mention of libraries from the new plan and entirely eliminate a carefully crafted integration of the teaching work librarians do from the “Educational Offerings” of a college or university (current Standard 11), the “General Education” goals of in institution (current Standard 12) and any “Related Educational Activities” a school was designed to offer (current Standard 13).

The long journey academic librarians have taken to reshape instruction in research to reflect the goals of information literacy, and further, to bring academic institutions on board so that they might understand the broadened role libraries have to play in higher education has been purpose-driven, far-reaching and effective. According to the American Library Association (ALA), when it last looked, each one of the six accrediting bodies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation includes “language in their Standards that stress the importance of teaching [information literacy skills] abilities in colleges and universities.”

Unfortunately, since ALA did its review of the most widely accepted accreditation standards in 2011, some things have changed. What Middle States is moving towards in its proposed new and briefer guidelines, may be, in fact, part of an unwelcome trend in a backward direction.  The most recent Western Association of Schools and Colleges Handbook of Accreditation, published in 2013, leaves information literacy out of Standard 2, “Achieving Educational Objectives Through Core Functions” and only implies the existence of a library in Standard 3, “Developing and Applying Resources and Organizational Structures to Ensure Sustainability.”

As higher education in the United States moves into a period of a fuller integration of pedagogy with technology, a time where researchers struggle to find their way through the onslaught of an information overload (be it a uniquely modern problem or not), and every college administrator from the president on down is quick to remind faculty of the increasing calls for accountability, will libraries continue to be counted?  Libraries and the work librarians do must remain central in every institution of higher education.  Let your voice for libraries be heard.  Respond to the MSCHE survey today.

6 thoughts on “Accreditation Standards & Libraries: A Dangerous Ride Down a Devolving Course”

  1. I’m so glad the ACRL has spoken out!

    I filled out the Middle States survey–here are my comments:

    I urge you to reinstate language explicitly recognizing the value and necessity of libraries, librarians, and information literacy.

    The proposed revised standards mention technological fluency, but that in and of itself does not address the need for information literacy. A student may be fluent in the mechanics of using an academic literature database but may well lack the skills to evaluate, analyze, critique, and use the contents of the database. Therein lies the value of information literacy.

    Also, if educators are under the impression that all scholarly material is available for free on the Web, thus making libraries obsolete, I would urge those educators to try to conduct research without access to the materials made available by college and university libraries. Databases and print and special collections curated by libraries are essential to the academy, as are the librarians who empower students and faculty to use those collections.

  2. It is imperative that the importance of libraries and librarians be recognized in clear and unequivocal language. Students do not learn information literacy on their own, they need to be taught how to evaluate, analyze, critique, and use the contents of databases.
    They need to be able to count on the resources of a well stocked library to learn to research and understand the field of study that intrigues them.

  3. School librarians are in integral part learning in every school. I could not agree more with Sharon on information literacy. We teach in colleges, and K-12, and help to create informed citizens.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly that we need to reverse this trend. To clarify, WASC does include information literacy in its core competencies (see 2.2a of their document), but NCA/HLC has removed all references to information literacy and libraries from their standards, while two other regional accreditors SACS and NWCCU mention libraries but not information literacy. NEAS&C stands with WASC as another accreditor that still strongly supports information literacy and libraries in their standards.

    I also think it’s important to note that this isn’t a library issue. It’s a quality education issue. Faculty in many of the departments on my campus, from math to English to speech to basic skills/academic literacy, are extremely concerned with MSCHE’s removal of libraries and information literacy from their standards. They see both as essential to the success of our students.

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